Over 30,000 teachers in Oklahoma marched for the second on the countries capital Tuesday to demand higher wages, better benefits, and an increase in school funding. The protest is one of several, which started in West Virginia in March, have spread across the United States like 'wildfire.'
"No funding, no future!" Katrina Ruff, a local teacher, carried a sign that read, “Thanks to West Virginia. They gave us the guts to stand up for ourselves," she said, according to the New York Times.
Schools in nearly 27 districts in Oklahoma including three in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Edmond, remained shuttered on Tuesday, and 500,000 of the state’s 700,000 public school students saw their classes canceled on Monday, union officials said.
In Oklahoma City, at the state Capitol, thousands of people gathered, chanting and carrying signs with slogans including: "Don’t make me use my TEACHER's voice,” and “STRAIGHT OUTTA SUPPLIES."
“I’m fed up,” Rusty Bradley, a high school technology teacher whose classroom computers are more than a decade old, told the Washington Post.
Oklahoma teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country. A 2017 University of Oklahoma study pointed out that teachers who leave the state make an average of $19,000 more per year, reaffirming the dismal state of education in the country.
According to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, adjustments to inflation in the state, have led to the state spending per student at nearly 30 percent over the course of the past decade.
On Thursday, Governor Fallin signed HB 1010, which has raised the teachers' pay by anywhere between 15 percent to 18 percent, with an average of US$6,100. The pay hike was possible because of the rise in state taxes of US$447 million on cigarettes, fuel and oil, and gas production.
Some of the demands by the largest teachers' union in the state include an increase in school funding by US$200 million over the course of three years and raise teachers' wages by US$10,000. So, a rise of three percent from 15 percent to 18 percent wasn't enough to keep them from the strike.
Art teacher Laurissa Kovacs at the Puterbaugh Middle School, told Oklahoma's CBS News affiliate, that the students weren't even getting necessary facilities.
"If I didn’t have a second job, I’d be on food stamps," Rae Lovelace, a single mom and a third-grade teacher at Leedey Public Schools in northwest Oklahoma, told the NBC News. Lovelace works 30 to 40 hours a week at a second job where she teaches online courses for a charter school.
The teachers are striking despite the governor's recent efforts, as the state would require significant advancements and funding to overcome the sub-par learning conditions.
"The chairs are in awful condition," Kovacs said. "They're broken, and they literally hurt the kids to sit down. If you look through the stacks, you can just see how many of the broken areas and cracks that will pinch you and jagged tops."
A teacher told Buzzfeed News, which she’s been buying textbooks for her students: "I’m funding my classroom, which is great, but I need them to now step up in order to do that."
Jason Simeroth, the superintendent of schools in Yukon, Oklahoma, told MSNBC, to replace the outdated math textbooks the district would need US$1 million.
"I think one of the things when people see this, they say, 'The teachers got a raise.' They did. It's the first one in a long time, but they’re not just here for that," Simeroth said. "They’re here for resources, here for desks. ... We haven’t had an operational increase since I’ve been doing this, and I’ve been doing this 27, 28 years."